Sphaenorhynchus lacteus is a relatively large Sphaenorhynchus (Lime Treefrog) found in South America. Snout-vent length is 25.5-41.5 mm in males, 38.4-45.7 mm in females (Duellman 2005). The skin is smooth dorsally, granular ventrally. The snout is pointed when viewed from above, and angles sharply back when viewed laterally. The pupil is horizontally elliptical (Benício et al. 2011). A dark canthal stripe often runs from the anterior corner of the eyes to the tip of the snout. The vomerine teeth are arranged in oval patches between the rear portions of the choanae. The tympana are exposed, and a tarsal fold is present. Fingers are approximately two-thirds webbed, while toes are completely webbed (Rivero 1969).
Sphaenorhynchus lacteus can be distinguished from other Sphaenorhynchus species by its large size, well-defined canthal stripe, more extensive webbing of the digits, and lack of a dorsolateral stripe (Rivero 1969).
In life the dorsum of S. lacteus is green. The canthal stripe is dark brown. The eyes are a creamy bronze color. White ventrally, and along the outer margins of the limbs. The limbs are a bluish green viewed from below (Benício et al. 2011).
Males tend to be smaller than females. The appearance of the canthal stripe may vary. Amount of webbing and disc size also may vary between individuals or across populations (Rivero 1969). Males have nuptial pads on the thumbs and a large, median, subgular vocal sac (Benício et al. 2011).
Sphaenorhynchus lacteus tadpoles are oval in shape with blunt snouts. Body length in stage 25 tadpoles is 4.1-7.2 mm, with a total length of 12-14.3 mm. At stage 42, one individual had a body length of 24.1 mm and a total length of 54.6 mm. Eyes are large and directed to the side. Oral disk is small. The musculature of the tail is moderately robust. At its maximum height, the tail fin is half the height of the caudal musculature (Duellman 2005).
Tadpoles are dark purple dorsally with silver or gold mottling on the sides. The iris is yellow. The chin is grey with flecking, while the belly is purple. The tail has purple stripes. In preservative, tadpoles appear brown and grey (Duellman 2005).
Distribution and Habitat
Country distribution from AmphibiaWeb's database: Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Trinidad and Tobago, Venezuela
Sphaenorhynchus lacteus is found in the Orinoco basin of Venezuela; the Amazon basin of Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela; Trinidad and Tobago; the Guianas (French Guiana, Guyana, and Suriname); and the seasonally flooded lowlands of Maranhão, Brazil. It is found at elevations between sea level and 300 meters (La Marca et al. 2010).
Sphaenorhynchus lacteus inhabits wetland, tropical forest, forest edge, savannah, meadow, and pond habitats. It can also be found in agricultural areas with seasonal flooding (La Marca et al. 2010).
Life History, Abundance, Activity, and Special Behaviors
Sphaenorhynchus lacteus is semi-aquatic; individuals are typically found in vegetation 0.5 to 2 meters off the ground, usually over the water. Sphaenorhynchus lacteus is an aquatic breeder. Individuals congregate around ponds at night. Males call from emergent grasses as well as from floating vegetation (La Marca et al. 2010).
Their call consists of clacking notes 0.10-0.12 seconds in duration with occasional longer pulsed notes 0.3 seconds long. The dominant frequency of the calls is 2240 Hz. After breeding, eggs are deposited in clutches of around 60 in the water or on the leaves of floating plants (Duellman 2005).
Sphaenorhynchus lacteus feeds primarily on ants (Duellman 2005).
Trends and Threats
Though populations are stable and the species is relatively common throughout its range, S. lacteus populations in certain areas may be threatened by fire, clear cutting, and water pollution (La Marca et al. 2010).
Some populations exist within protected areas in Venezuela and Ecuador (La Marca et al. 2010).
Relation to Humans
The species can be found in the pet trade and is mentioned on herpetoculture forums under the names “Greater Hatchet-faced treefrog” and “Orinoco Lime Treefrog.”
Possible reasons for amphibian decline
General habitat alteration and loss
Habitat modification from deforestation, or logging related activities
Intensified agriculture or grazing
Drainage of habitat
Dams changing river flow and/or covering habitat
Local pesticides, fertilizers, and pollutants
Long-distance pesticides, toxins, and pollutants
Intentional mortality (over-harvesting, pet trade or collecting)
The species authority for S. lacteus is François Marie Daudin, 1803. The species was first described as both Hyla lactea and H. aurantiaca by Daudin. (Note: A “Hyla lactea” had been previously described by Josephus Nicolaus Laurenti in 1768. This species, however, had a large mouth, milky white spots, and barred flanks. This was not the same species as Daudin’s Hyla lactea, and thus is not the same species as S. lacteus). Hyla lactea and H. aurantiaca were then shown to be a single species in 1969 by Juan A. Rivero, who renamed the species Sphaenorhynchus eurhostus. An analysis of nomenclature by William E. Duellman and John D. Lynch in 1981 found that the species would most accurately be called Sphaenorhynchus lacteus (Duellman and Lynch 1981).
Its common name in Spanish is "Rana Fantasma" (La Marca et al. 2010), which translates to "Ghost Frog."
La Marca, E., Azevedo-Ramos, C., Coloma, L. A., Santiago, R., and Hardy, J. (2010). Sphaenorhynchus lacteus. In: IUCN 2012. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2012.2. www.iucnredlist.org. Downloaded on 04 February 2013.
Benício, R. A., Silva, G. R., and Fonseca, M. G. (2011). ''Amphibia, Anura, Hylidae, Sphaenorhynchus lacteus (Daudin, 1800): First record of the genus and species for the state of Piauí, Brazil.'' Check List, 7(2), 196-197.
Duellman, W. E. and Lynch, J. D. (1981). ''Nomenclatural Resolution of the Identities of Hyla aurantiaca and Hyla lactea.'' Journal of Herpetology, 15(2), 237-239.
Duellman, W.E. (2005). Cusco Amazónico: The Lives of Amphibians and Reptiles in an Amazonian Rainforest. Comstock Pub. Associates, Ithaca.
Ouboter, P. E., Jairam, R. (2012). Amphibians of Suriname. Brill, Leiden, The Netherlands.
Rivero, Juan A. (1969). ''A New Name for Sphaenorhynchus aurantiacus (Daudin) (Amphibia, Salientia).'' Copeia, 1969(4), 700-703.
Originally submitted by: John Cavagnaro (first posted 2013-02-11)
Edited by: Ann T. Chang (2013-04-22)
Species Account Citation: AmphibiaWeb 2013 Sphaenorhynchus lacteus: Ghost Frog <https://amphibiaweb.org/species/1174> University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA. Accessed Aug 15, 2022.
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Citation: AmphibiaWeb. 2022. <https://amphibiaweb.org> University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA. Accessed 15 Aug 2022.
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